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Information Literacy Tutorial: A. Understanding your assignment

A module-based information literacy tutorial that addresses each stage of the research process, including selecting a topic, identifying information needs, selecting sources, locating information, evaluating information, and citing sources.

Your assignment

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Want to be clear about the assignment task?  Then start with the box on the right. 

What do I have to do?

What does "critically evaluate" mean?  What am I supposed to do? 

Open the document below to get clarity on a list of well-known task words.

Practical Exercise

Now let's analyse the following assignment question. Can you spot the "action word" and the important "keywords"?


Discuss how information communication technologies have significantly changed the delivery of higher education in South Africa during the past decade.


You've got it!  Now learn about specifying keywords for your information search below

Synonyms, Broader, Narrower & Related Terms

Once the main keywords and phrases in the topic are listed, look at each of them and try to generate synonyms, broader, narrower and related terms.

Let’s use the following topic as an example:

 “An analysis of the use of cell phones among urban youth in South Africa


Main keywords


Broader terms

Narrower terms

Related terms

cell phones

cellular phones

mobile phones

mobile technology

Blackberry Curve



Nokia N8

urban youth city youth

township youth


15 year olds


South Africa





Cape Town






** The phrase “South Africa” also acts as the geographic limiter, i.e. urban youth in Botswana or the United States may not be included in the information search

Any or all of these alternative terms may be used in different combinations when searching a variety of resources to find relevant information to complete a well-researched assignment.

You're ready for the interactive quizz on the right

Understanding your assignment


Understanding your assignment

Writing assignments is one of the fun things undergraduate students do throughout their academic life. When you are required to submit an assignment, the expectation is that the completed product will address the core issue(s) raised by the set task.  

Your answer or argument will be based on your interpretation of the given task, and in a class of fifty students, there might be as many different interpretations of the same task.

Central to any interpretation though, should be a close reading of the topic, i.e. you will be expected to look at the topic closely by reading through it carefully to make sure that you are able to

  • isolate the different parts which make up the assignment;
  • know the different meanings of the words as used in the context of the assignment question; and
  • understand how the different parts relate to one another.

Start off by simply trying to identify the keywords and/or phrase(s). Then identify instructions which always form part of the task. These instructions will guide you in your analysis of the various sections which comprise the actual question. Sifting through the constituent parts will help you to focus on what the assignment requires in terms of content and form.

Keywords will point to the aspects which you must write about to obtain a good mark. To identify the keywords (also called "topic words"), look for the nouns dealing with ideas, issues or concepts. These keywords will play a big role when you begin searching for relevant information for your assignment at a later stage.

Action words tell you what you must do in order to answer a question correctly. For example, your assignment question may include any or a combination of the following action words which direct you to submit a product in which you must "assess", "discuss", "argue", "compare", "review", "outline", "identify", "explain", "illustrate", or "analyse" certain issues. Action words are useful as they give you an indication of what you are required to do when answering the assignment question. (See explanation of task words via the link in the box on the left hand side) 

Limiting words or phrases  determine the scope of the question. Limiting words may refer to a specific geographic area, a certain period, a group, indicate a particular framework or a qualifying number. Do not forget to take note of the limiting words or phrases as they help limit the focus of the assignment.

No matter how complex the question posed, start by identifying the keywords (or phrases), the limiting words, and find the action word(s). This will go a long way in reaching an understanding about the task, and this process all helps one to:

  • define the essence of the posed question by narrowing down the topic; 
  • remain aware of the different dimensions posed by the question; and
  • restrict one's reading to provide an answer to the set question.

  Now look at the practical exercise on the Left


Check your understanding

Please work through the following quiz:


Interactive Quiz




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